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Cinta di Dalam Gelas

As if everything has been plotted, Cinta di Dalam Gelas comes out to rescue Padang Bulan from falling from grace, as it is obvious by the fact that both novels are packaged as one. And just living up to the expectations, Cinta di Dalam Gelas picks up where Padang Bulan left off, especially where Enong’s story ended with a cliffhanger. This book, in my opinion, is way better than its prequel. Andrea Hirata seems to try to make amends immediately for his petty love story by bringing up some more important issue, namely living as the marginal.

The beginning of the story unveils the background of Maryamah—apparently, and surprisingly, the real name of Enong—elaborating as the narrative goes the difficult life and agonized past she has which then shape her to be a very strong woman seeking for the sweet revenge she thinks she deserves. The opportunity presents itself when a chess competition is about to be held in the Independence Day celebration. However, it’s been a custom to have only men joining the said competition. Maryamah has never played chess before, nor does she know how, and almost everyone in the village opposes the idea of women joining the allegedly prestigious competition. But she doesn’t give up. She insists on joining it and, with the help of Ikal and his friends and some agreement with the members of the society, she gets the ticket. Supported by his old friend back when he is in France, an international grand master, Ikal helps Maryamah learning how to play chess. And when everyone doubts her, she shows them how courage and hard work have turned her from a common, marginal, uneducated woman into a female champion in the so-called male arena.

Hirata describes the character of Maryamah in better detail as the plot goes by here than what we perceive in Padang Bulan. Not only strong and capable of standing on her own two feet, Maryamah is also full of determination and never afraid of any challenges in life. Her unhappy, destroyed marriage with Matarom does not break her down, instead, it makes her even stronger and not take any nonsense from men. Though poor and uneducated, not to mention living in a strict patriarchal society, Maryamah doesn’t hesitate to prove herself worthy of respect and equality by constant learning and unfailing endeavor, hence stepping over the gender restrictions.

It is quite unusual for Hirata to present a story about the struggle of a woman, especially one living in the conservative Malay society of Belitong, despite his many novels about the struggle of marginal people. This is the first time in my memory that Hirata brings up such an issue as feminism/gender equality and is critical of it without ever being too much. Maryamah being poor, uneducated, and female is a vivid proof of being marginal and brings her face-to-face with not only one, or two, but a lot more odds than usually stacked against average marginal people. Her “success” and persistence in reaching it can be an inspiration in some ways to the reader.

As always, Hirata narrates his story in a hilarious, witty way, leaving aside the yo-yoing quality of his narrative from one novel to another. Cinta di Dalam Gelas doesn’t seem extravagant to me, to be honest, but its plot is believable and, with Hirata putting Ikal aside for a while, the development of the character of Maryamah gives it a plus point. It just has everything we want in a novel.

All things considered, Cinta di Dalam Gelas is a total remedy for Andrea Hirata’s last two disappointing novels, at least in my opinion. It has something more than merely a story of love or of reaching big dreams. It truly depicts what it is like to be marginal in every sense of the word: poor, uneducated, and being the “second sex”. I can bravely say that it gives light to any readers who are willing to forgive Hirata’s previous flop. This is really a recommended novel for everyone.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Padang Bulan

After Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy ended with the disappointing Maryamah Karpov, what could Andrea Hirata possibly do to disarm the angry readers? Criticism was so raging out there and had Hirata made one more mistake, the readers would never have forgiven him. So Padang Bulan is his answer to all the critics. Published as a package of double stories in 2010, Padang Bulan has more or less redeemed his previous flop. As the continuation of his former quartet of novels, so he claimed, Padang Bulan once again talks about the importance  of hard work and persistent endeavor in achieving our aim.

The novel unfolds with an introductory story of Enong, a young girl whose father dies all of a sudden while their family is living in poverty and starvation. Enong, dreaming of mastering English language and becoming an English teacher, has to give up everything and assume the responsibility of being the breadwinner of her family. The first chapters of the book see her struggles to get a job and her failures in them. Her consistency and unrelenting endeavor then successfully take her to be the first ever female tin miner.

However, the book is apparently not about Enong, not in essence. True to Hirata’s words, Maryamah Karpov is not the end of Ikal’s story, and definitely not the end of his long love saga. This may seem awkward and failed to satisfy our curiosity over the end of Enong’s story, but Hirata has his own reason.

Narrating in a sequence of recollections, as always, here Hirata picks up exactly where he left off in Maryamah Karpov. After having a quarrel with his father over his father’s disapproval of his love for A Ling, Ikal decides to leave his home and choose to be with A Ling instead. It’s so unlucky him, however, that A Ling leaves him just right after their last encounter. Rumor has it that she will soon get married to another man. Irked and jealous, he wonders how she could turn her back on him and choose another man. Heartbreak leads him to insanely promise to beat that other man in any game so A Ling will come back to him. His desperation and dogged perseverance encourage him not only to try too hard, but also do unthinkably stupid things ending up in miserably silly circumstances. And at the end, all those endeavors are to no avail.

While the character of Ikal is as much hard worker as in every novel written by Hirata, Enong is the one who catches my attention most. She is really the embodiment of the marginal people in society who has to put aside her dreams for fighting in the harsh reality where earning money and clawing her way out of poverty are very much difficult. Her being the first ever female tin miner and the breadwinner of her family delivers an echo of what feminism and/or gender equality should take form, in which a woman can possibly compete with men and assume the so-called male responsibility. It is such a shame that she must appear briefly without any clarity in her ending.

I have to say that Padang Bulan is not as special as Laskar Pelangi. Nor Edensor, for that matter. The story is enjoyable and entertaining, yet somehow gives almost nothing to the reader. Had Hirata given Enong more room to explore her character and story, it would have been better and richer. I believe that the struggle of a marginal woman and hard work can be hand in hand to present a marvelous tale. But here, Hirata decided not to do so. Instead, he talks merely about Ikal’s foolish behavior and endeavor to have his true love back. However, the narrative is not bad. Not as strong as Laskar Pelangi’s, though. And to my amazement, it is still well written in a witty, hilarious way.

If you’re Andrea Hirata’s fans, you don’t want to miss this book. Padang Bulan may not as a great compensation for the sloppy Maryamah Karpov as I have expected, but it is at least better in every way. I don’t think this book is highly recommended, but you can at least try it.

Rating: 3/5

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Maryamah Karpov: Mimpi-mimpi Lintang

Such a tricky title this book has. Maryamah Karpov: Mimpi-mimpi Lintang by Andrea Hirata is not actually about anyone named Maryamah Karpov, nor is it really about Lintang. In some ways it is about, like the previous three, reaching our dreams of life, but this fourth book of the Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy is more of a story about dreaming of finding the long-lost love than of a hilarious saga about dreaming of getting higher, better education. This book was first published in 2008 and had been arousing bitter controversy and criticism ever since. After reading it completely, I’d rather take the public’s side.

Written in a darker atmosphere, Hirata sort of  puts Ikal in a desperate search of his first and forever love, A Ling. Here, Ikal casts himself as the victim of an unfair love story and is willing to do everything, even the impossible, to find A Ling. He tells us how his mission to find her has been his biggest dream all along, how he has no qualms about walking across Africa and the Europe, sweating over making his own boat, taking a voyage to every island scattered across the Belitong, fighting against some dark, ancient, backward pirates, and mostly, about surrendering his life. I would personally say that the very idea of the love journey being narrated is not that exceptional, for every love story has that same base. However, of course, love story is never made only to end happily ever after. And the book proves it so.

Ever being observant of his cultural surroundings, Hirata keeps his portrayal of characters deep and accurate, especially those of the Malay people in Belitong, to say the least. This book has also a unique plot and an unpredictable end. Fortunately, much to my surprise, Hirata gets his strong narrative back to the top spot, though it doesn’t help the faulty over-the-top story. I must say that this book is just too much to a fault. Some things are just overwhelming that they seem to stray away from the main scope of the story. Some parts even bored me to tears. The only thing which still gripped me tightly while reading it is none other than Hirata’s writing style. Though darker in its atmosphere, Maryamah Karpov is still well-written, smart, and hilarious, so typical of Hirata. He definitely never fails to engage me in his storytelling.

All things considered, I’d say that Maryamah Karpov: Mimpi-mimpi Lintang is an anticlimax of the Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy, although Andrea Hirata himself said that this is not the end. So if you are not Hirata’s fans, you’d rather pass this book on. In my opinion, this is the worst book of the four installments, the most dragging, and the most unnecessary number. If this is really not the end, well, I’ll expect a better thing coming from Andrea Hirata next time.

Rating: 2.5/5

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What if you get to finally grab your dreams? Moving on to the third installment of Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy, Andrea Hirata seems to tell you that you don’t actually stop. First published in 2007, Edensor reveals the next journey of Ikal in his pursuit of higher education. At this stage of story, dreams are not what he strives to achieve anymore, they’re something he scrambles already, with many difficulties and hurdles. The setting of Paris cements the fact that there are still challenges to go through in living out his dreams.

The beginning of the story continues the ending of Sang Pemimpi as Ikal and Arai finally win scholarships to study further at Universite de Paris, Sorbonne. Ikal tells us how ridiculously hard it is to deal with the Europe once they get there, the language barrier, the sense of inferiority in the face of self-important, superior people, the weather gap, and mainly, the cultural differences.

As it happens, we have this bit of love story going on in the teeth of cultural gap as a German girl named Katya forthrightly shows her particular interest in Ikal, while all men in their class seem to want to engage her in an intimate relationship. This very cultural gap is what stops him from going any further with Katya. Besides, Ikal never gives up on A Ling, his first love back when in Belitong. His love for A Ling drives him to insanely try to find her in all over the Europe in the middle of his Euro-Africa trip with Arai. Much to his dismay, he cannot find A Ling and instead arrives in a beautiful place she ever tells him about back in their time together: Edensor.

What captures my interest most is Ikal’s point of view in describing the characters of various people from all over the world. He hilariously points out how people of developing countries, such as he himself and his friends from India and Mexico, are so much different from people of developed countries like his classmates from America or the Europe. He portrays their cultural characteristics by way of describing the solemn silence, for instance, of the German and Dutch people, the coarse language used by his British and American friends, and the always lack-of-money state of himself and other fellow students from the developing countries.

Edensor, generally, is more of a story about cultural differences, education, knowledge, and pondering of superior-inferior relationship. It still tells us about going beyond the bounds of possibility, yes, but its significance has somewhat diminished. Its narrative, unfortunately, continues its sloppy decline, making me find it hard to tell whether it is a literary work or merely a popular book, though I personally believe there is no such a thing as popular book. To me, a work is a work; there is no limit on literature. Nevertheless, Andrea Hirata has once again proved himself to be a cultural observer with his hilarious, witty descriptions of various people in the world, albeit only in a small circle surrounding himself.

In conclusion, I’d like to recommend this book to those of you who want to know the next story of Ikal. For readers who seek for a smart, entertaining book, Edensor is also a choice.

Rating: 3/5

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Sang Pemimpi

Laskar Pelangi doesn’t stop where it does. In fact, it continues to the next installment, revealing the other side of Ikal’s life. Though not as booming as the previous one, namely Laskar Pelangi itself, Andrea Hirata’s 2006 Sang Pemimpi can still attract a wide readership. Packed in a thinner, denser book, it continues to tell about dreams and the essential, hard-and-fast struggle to reach them. Set in Ikal’s early through late teens, its hopeful atmosphere strongly brings you to a wide awake state of mind, getting you out of the sleep of pessimism.

Still told from Ikal’s point of view, the story begins with his high school life together with his two best friends, Arai and Jimbron. He describes, in an as much hilariously pitiful way as Laskar Pelangi, how hard it is to live under extreme poverty with an extreme dream of reaching further, greater education. At some point in their teenage life, they dream of getting their further education in France, where art and knowledge live, and exploring the earth up from the Europe to Africa. In reality, the three of them are merely ordinary students, doubling as under-paid labors living in a poor, isolated small village which has only one high school. Nevertheless, they keep their dreams alive by struggling and striving non stop.

The characters of Ikal, Arai, and Jimbron show no abatement of spirit, which is the very soul of the story. They never cease to hope and believe in miracle and hard work. They show that no matter how hard it is to live under poverty, no matter how harsh the reality is, nothing is impossible as long as they’re eager and willing to do everything in their power to achieve their goal.

The best thing about Sang Pemimpi, to my thinking, is Hirata’s strong consistency in his style of writing: culturally witty, hilariously pitiful, and scientific in the most humorous way. It’s smart, without being smart aleck, yet enjoyable, making you forget its weakness appeared here and there, namely, if I may say, its weak narrative. I have to say that Laskar Pelangi has stronger and more poignant narrative. Though having no flaws in its plot, which is presented still in a recollection way of storytelling, Sang Pemimpi makes you think that you’re merely reading just another popular book. However, Hirata’s laughable ironic sentences keep it enjoyable to read. Sort of making me forgive the author’s inconceivable, sloppy decline in writing.

All in all, I still highly recommend this book to everyone. This book doesn’t only give you hopes, but drives you to get up and start to work on your biggest dream. Regardless of its unbelievably weak narrative, Sang Pemimpi is still a great, inspirational novel with great characters to follow.

Rating: 3/5

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Laskar Pelangi

Andrea Hirata’s Laskar Pelangi is just a fascinating tale of reaching dreams and the existence of miracle. It was first published in 2005 and has won national and international acclaim. It is one of the most widely read Indonesian literary works, one which has and continues to gain a very wide readership. It is its theme of “reaching dreams”, I believe, which is responsible for its huge success. Reaching dreams, however undeniably common, is what everyone is struggling for today. Hirata has cleverly altered his personal experience into something people desperately need to read to boost up their morale.

Told from Ikal’s point of view, Laskar Pelangi’s first pages present his lamentation over his boring, unmoving life. But then at some point his grumbling takes him to memories of his childhood, where life can be so bitter and hopeless. Back when he is a kid, living in a poor isolated village in Belitong with extremely minimum educational facility, Ikal is stepping on to a narrow, winding path towards what we would call “dreams of education” as he enters an almost-closed school, SD Muhammadiyah. With only ten students, including Ikal, the school can finally run, relying on what limited facility they have. Page after page, event after event, ordeal after ordeal that befall those kids, the Laskar Pelangi, emanate an atmosphere of determination and persistence no matter how hard they have to stand up on a shaky ground.

In any case, the kids of Laskar Pelangi are basically depicted as unflawless people with unflawless lives. Taking a look at Lintang, who is the smartest and the brightest of all, we have to uneasily agree that life doesn’t always turn out as we want it to. This unpredictability of life is clearly evident as those kids grow up: some becoming a very successful figure, some working as a labor, some frustrating over his job, some drowning into mental illness. This is the point where Hirata’s humbly telling us that life can be as much miraculous as disastrous. Nevertheless, Laskar Pelangi is not a novel which leads its reader to mournful pondering. Its characters, its plot, its implied message drive its reader to hope, to move, to work, and to be optimistic no matter what.

Hirata, as Ikal, narrates his dream saga in a culturally witty style, making it hilarious to follow. Impressively, this point of view doesn’t make it illogical in how the story is arranged. I found it more of a recollection of his childhood with personal understanding of his friends’ characters poured into vivid and clear sentences, random yet unpuzzling, rather than of a carefully structured narrative. So unfortunately, the slow movement and occasionally incorrect sentence composition make the writing a little bit weak and clumsy. Being a new author at the point of writing this novel, it could be slightly excusable. However, some readers might not want to let it go.

All things considered, Laskar Pelangi could be precisely perceived as a great debut novel from Andrea Hirata. Leaving aside the debate out there over whether or not it is worth being called a “literary work”, and its inevitably reckless flaws, Laskar Pelangi is still a great work of fiction (if you want to call it so), a great story of pursuing and reaching dreams, a great mean of retaining hopes and optimism. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is in need of good and inspiring read.

Rating: 3.5/5